Suriname, the world’s most forested nation, boasts a diverse and rich ecosystem that includes vital mangrove forests along its coastline. Like a hidden magical realm, the magnificent mangrove ecosystems hold the secrets to a thriving world beneath the waves.
These mangrove ecosystems play a crucial role in supporting biodiversity, mitigating climate change, and providing sustainable livelihoods for coastal communities. However, like any magical realm, this one is also facing its own challenges. Despite their significance, mangrove ecosystems have faced substantial degradation in recent decades. Unsustainable logging, expansion of aquaculture, and pollution from human activities have severely impacted these habitats.
Understanding the Importance of Mangrove Ecosystems
Mangrove forests are a unique form of wetland that grow at the interface between land and sea. They provide a plethora of ecological services, making them one of the most productive and biologically diverse ecosystems on Earth. These dense forests act as a natural buffer against coastal erosion and storm surges, safeguarding local communities from the impacts of natural disasters. Moreover, mangroves serve as crucial nursery habitats for various marine species, including fish and crustaceans, which are essential for the sustenance of coastal fishing communities.
According to a 2016 study by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), mangroves in Suriname cover an estimated 100,000 hectares, which is about 1.6-2% of the world’s mangroves1. In terms of livelihoods, mangroves support coastal fisheries and some honey producing micro and small businesses depend on the Parwa (black mangrove) for their survival, as the mangrove is a source for nectar for honeybees, some parts of the mangrove plants are even used for homeopathic medicines by the local communities.
The quality of these services and ecosystem health are in turn dependent on their judicious utilization by communities. Local people are not just recipients of these services but also exert direct influence on the health of ecosystems. The intricate links between local livelihoods and ecosystem health are now widely recognized. With coastal communities constantly evolving and diversification of their needs and occupations, there is greater urgency to equate socio-economic and livelihood concerns with ecosystem health. It is now imperative to focus on promoting involvement and training of coastal communities, so that their livelihood activities can be environmentally sound, economically realistic, and sustainable.
Using these intricate links between local livelihoods and ecosystem health as a guideline, IDB Lab piloted a project in the Nickerie and Coronie coastal districts, called Community Conservation of Mangroves.
The Community Conservation of Mangroves project
The key objective of this project was to ensure the generation of a sustainable livelihoods for the coastal communities via their engagement and active support in the sustainable management of mangrove forest resources and biodiversity ecosystem, while simultaneously protecting and conserving the mangrove ecosystems.
An important aspect of the project was the empowerment of the coastal communities. This empowerment was envisioned to be achieved through civil society engagement, building capacity via appropriate training, including tools and methods supporting diversified and sustainable livelihoods related to mangrove ecosystems, and addressing gender specific issues in the coastal resource management context.
As we near the project’s end, the results achieved to date are more than expected during its design. The project was approved amidst the COVID-19 crisis in 2020 and required out from the box thinking of the Executing Agency, Green Heritage Fund, to be able to achieve the targets set during project design. The direct beneficiaries targeted for this project included students at the secondary level participating in school-based and extracurricular training events.
Picture 1: Children in Coronie participating in the extracurricular training
Instead of the planned number of 150, the project included 571 students through special activity boxes that allowed them to learn about mangrove conservation at home.
Picture 2: To target younger children, a knowledge product in the form of a comic book on the importance of mangroves as a seasonal or permanent habitat or bird species in Suriname was developed
Adult members of the communities in Nickerie and Coronie were also targeted through community engagement events and sustainable livelihood training sessions. The adults were also overwhelmingly supportive and motivated. This allowed us to be able to reach around 40% more persons with the outreach activities than initially planned. Aside from this approximately 61 people were trained in sustainable livelihood options.
Picture 3: Honey production training in Coronie – building of perone hives
Apart from local community empowerment the proposed solution also facilitated data collection, data analysis and exchange of information and knowledge with other countries in the region through the GLOBE (Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment) Network. Together with GLOBE, the Green Heritage Fund worked on adapting existing GLOBE protocols to protect and sustain the mangrove ecosystem. A virtual platform was created through slack to connect stakeholders working on mangroves in the country.
Coastal communities can play an indispensable part in safeguarding their own environment and becoming guardians for protection. By enhancing their role in advocating the benefits and values of mangroves and the need to protect them, a valuable support base can be created for the mangrove’s sustainable management, through the creation of a pool of local human capital and capacity giving the local people means to help protect and rehabilitate affected areas.
As part of the project, the Green Heritage Fund created a 3-part mini-documentary series on the lessons learned that can be accessed through the links below. The videos are in Dutch but have English subtitles.
We hope that the information generated through this project helps other Mangrove initiatives in the country and the region.